2.1 Late 19th century

The opening of houses for visitors developed through the 19th century, initially from a form of reciprocal hospitality and then towards a more philanthropic venture (Tinniswood 1998, 138-40). Through the 18th and 19th centuries, great houses were available for gentle-folk to visit, as described in Pride and Prejudice in 1813, when Elizabeth Bennet visits Pemberley. Elizabeth was not unfamiliar with house visiting. 'She must own that she was tired of great houses; after going over so many, she really had no pleasure in fine carpets or satin curtains'. The group was escorted by the household staff. 'When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned downstairs, and taking leave of the housekeeper, they were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall door' (Austen 1993 edition, 162-7). Hampton Court opened to the public without charge in 1838 (Evans 2000, 55). This marked the start of the breakdown of the strict social rules dictating who could and could not visit such a building, and led to a national debate about the role of historic buildings, and the suitability of 'the masses' visiting them (Tinniswood 1998, 138-47). Concern was expressed that objects within Hampton Court might be damaged by drunkards going through (Tinniswood 1998). A reviewer in The Gentleman's Magazine commented in 1840 that the Reform Bill passed to make Hampton Court a free attraction 'has given encouragement to the busy, meddling, swaggering, vulgar insolence of the low-born bully', who 'is not content unless he can, and he will, imprint his hoofs upon its [Hampton Court's] polished floors' (Tinniswood 1998, 141).

In time, owners of historic houses saw the commercial potential of charging entrance fees for people to visit their homes, and raising money to run the household and preserve the buildings became a driving force in the opening of houses to the public. At Hampton Court in the 1830s admission charges were making a significant contribution, paying the housekeeper's wage (Tinniswood 1998, 139). In some cases strategies were employed to increase visitor figures and therefore income: in the early 19th century Penshurst Place ran coach journeys three times a week from London to bring tourists (Tinniswood 1998, 126).

The late 19th century saw the beginning of reconstruction work aimed specifically at the presentation of houses to the public. The Arts and Crafts and conservation movements of the late 19th century started to react to the alterations being made to historic houses for private and public usage, and the formation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in 1877 marks a formalisation of conservation philosophy. This grew from the philosophies of the Arts and Crafts movement, who valued traditional skills, truth to materials and honesty in construction (Muthesius 1979). The desire to preserve the historic fabric of houses built using traditional techniques was entirely consistent with these ideas.

Figure 6  Figure 7

Figure 6: The garden and rear of Alfriston Clergy House © NTPL/Andrew Butler. Alfriston Clergy House. The Tye, Alfriston. 01323 870001.
Figure 7: Tile repair at Montacute, Somerset

From this period until the First World War a wide range of approaches was used, but in many cases this period represented the first use of reconstruction to alter a building with presentation to the public as an aim, reflecting the move to opening of public museums in this era (Tinniswood 1998, 139-58). Many examples of buildings reconstructed in this period show an interest in the earlier phases of structure. This was the case, for example at Alfriston Clergy House in Sussex, the first building acquired by the National Trust, where a first floor that had been inserted into the Hall in the post-medieval period was removed in the mid-1890s (NT ACH 1 and SPAB ACH 1). The building is now set in a recreated kitchen garden (Fig. 6). From this early period in historic house reconstruction for display to the public, the SPAB guided philosophy and provided practical ideas (SPAB 1877). For example, their suggestion of using tile in repairs to make modern insertions obvious was taken up at Montacute in Somerset in the 1930s (Fig. 7) (Philip Venning, SPAB, pers. comm.).

Figure 8

Figure 8: Stoneacre with sections added from North Bore Place, Kent

Private individuals were less affected by the guidelines of the SPAB, and some buildings that later became heritage sites underwent radical work in this period, such as at Stoneacre in Kent, where another building, North Bore Place, was moved to the site, and two sections of it added to different parts of the original building (Fig. 8 shows the original Stoneacre in the foreground and the square-panelled North Bore beyond) (Anon 2001, 2-7). Similarly, at Great Dixter Lutyens, one of the foremost conservation architects of his day, added sections of another house, Beneden, and new sections to create the building seen today (Emery 2006, 340).


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